Volleyball bench a quiet contributor to Illinois success

While sitting on the bench during Saturday’s Illinois-Purdue volleyball match, Illinois sophomore Jazmine Orozco — who had yet to play — was told she would go in to serve at the end of the fourth set.

Orozco created two scenarios in her head. In one, she scored an ace and won the match. In the other, she served the ball into the net, forcing the match to a fifth set.

With the set tied at 23 and Illinois leading 2-1, Orozco stepped on the court to potentially serve match point.

“I really just went in, tried to compose myself, keep the team calm, said a quick prayer and then went for it,” Orozco said.

Neither of her imagined scenarios happened, but Orozco brought a calm presence on the court, serving over the net and to a 3-1 win over Purdue. After the match, head coach Kevin Hambly called her “cold-blooded.”

However, the match would not have ended in victory without two huge digs during match point by senior Rachel Feldman, who also played off the bench.

“I wasn’t going to let anything hit the floor at that point,” Feldman said. “I wasn’t even thinking about it, I just wanted to get anything up that I could, so it was neat. That was a long rally and I just collapsed to the floor afterward, it was a great feeling.”

This year’s Illinois bench has consistently contributed, from Orozco and Feldman, to serving specialist Jackie Wolfe and spark plugs Morganne Criswell and Ali Stark. Hambly attributed the bench’s success to the trust the other teammates have for each other.

“I have confidence in them, but what’s more important is the team has confidence in whoever we put out there,” Hambly said. “If we put Morganne out there to hit, they’re like, ‘All right Morganne, come on.’”

Orozco and Feldman each started in previous seasons, but have accepted and perfected their roles for this season. For Orozco, that role entails entering matches during high-pressure situations. Feldman’s role involves leadership on and off the court. Orozco’s serving percentage of .927 is second on the team behind only Feldman.

“She’s definitely a closer. She has a ton of confidence in herself, her serve is wicked,” Feldman said. “I mean Jackie does a nice job coming off the bench, too. That’s a tough position to come in and serve, so I give them both credit for what they do.”

In Feldman’s case, this is the first year she is not starting in place of an injured player. She replaced the starting libero during her sophomore year, and last season played in place of Laura DeBruler. At the start of this season, Hambly said he thought freshmen Criswell or Stark would play in the back row because of their offensive attack, but Feldman made that prediction hard to live up to.

“She’s just a stud. Rachel is having a tremendous senior year,” Hambly said. “At the beginning of the year, if you were to ask me what Rachel’s going to do, I’d say probably not much, maybe come in to serve occasionally. … And she’s just been too good, like we just have to put her on the floor, which has been really cool to see. Not just in her play but as a leader. This year it’s cool because she earned it.”

And even though Feldman and Orozco have had that starting job, they make sure they stay involved in the game, even while on the bench.

“It was hard at first because it is an adjustment, but I think at this point in the season I’m just ready to do whatever it is that I’m asked to do at whatever point I’m asked to do it,” Orozco said. “If that means all I do is support my teammates and help them find shots or places to hit, whatever it might be, I’ll do it.”